Next-gen materials encompass sustainable alternatives to animal-derived materials with the Materials Innovation Institute (MII) saying industrial animal farming for goods including leather, fur, silk, wool, down, and exotic skins is a leading cause of many of the pressing problems of our time, including climate change, environmental degradation, public health risks, and animal cruelty.

A new report from MII says of the 95 companies innovating in next-gen materials, 55 have been established since 2014. Most (41) of these 55 new companies are working on leather biomimicry. In the same period, five companies were formed that work on biomimicry of silk, five on wool, four on fur, three down, and one on both leather and exotic skins.

MII said the investment amount in 2021 into next-gen materials more than doubled that from in 2020. Moreover, dollars invested in 2021 alone was nearly the same as the previous four years combined, even amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the number of deals has not drastically increased from 2020 to 2021, MII says dollars invested has more than doubled, demonstrating bigger
deal sizes are to be expected as companies mature, show proof of concept, and scale.

Last February, sustainable footwear and apparel company Allbirds invested US$2m into start-up Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) and its Mirum technology as part of its bid to bring a sustainable leather alternative to the fashion industry. 

MII also noted that the number of fashion brands looking to adopt next-gen materials is growing.

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“MII has met with 40 leading fashion brands, and all but two are actively searching for next-gen materials to integrate into their supply chains. With so many new next-gen material options coming to market, brands and consumers will soon have more choices than animal-based leather, wool, silk, down, fur, and exotic skins,” Nicole Rawling, CEO of MII says in the report,

Elaine Siu, chief innovation officer, adds: “Many industry brands have specific, publicly disclosed targets and pledges to attain measurable improvements in sustainability. Given the significant impact raw materials have on a brand’s environmental footprint, it is expected that these targets will be largely achieved through a transition from incumbent (and current-gen) materials to next-gen alternatives. These sustainability pledges, both in terms of volume and timeline, are therefore a good reference for material innovators and investors to gauge the potential market size and growth rate of the next-gen materials industry.”

However, one of the barriers to adoption of next-gen materials is their availability at scale, Jacqueline Kravette, board member of the MII notes.

“The current materials industry does not yet produce sustainable options at scale that meet brands’ performance, aesthetics, and price requirements. When we help brands source these next-gen materials, we encounter very few existing options that meet a brand’s specifications and hit their sustainability goals. We continue to reiterate that perfection cannot be the enemy of good. In other words, although we are not quite there on 100% cradle-to cradle sustainability, moving to next-gen raw materials will have significant positive environmental impacts.”

The report adds acceleration of the next-gen materials industry is fueled by advancements in science and technology, by consumer preferences, and by regulatory trends.

“Exciting white space opportunities are waiting to be exploited, those who are quick to adapt have the opportunity to reap massive financial benefits by staking their claim on the materials industry of the future,” report authors note.

Click here to access the full report.